NPB wrap 11-23-21

A lot of the buildup around every Japan Series, is about the managers, as it often is in Japan, where there is a belief that managers’ tactics are crucial to success, although I think that is because before the series starts, there are no results on the field to talk about.

Anyway, this time we have two guys with limited experience, who did however compete in the 1995 Japan Series, for their Hall of Fame managers at the time, Orix’s Akira Ogi and Yakult’s Katsuya Nomura. And these guys are being used as stand-ins for their former managers.

The Swallows’ Shingo Takatsu would have made Nomura proud by refusing to announce his starting pitchers during the series when most managers these days do. But otherwise, Takatsu is way more old-school than Nomura was.

The central idea behind Japanese baseball is teamwork. The word they use is “tsunagu” which is the verb meaning “to link up or connect.” It is typically used to describe playing small ball, bunting the runner over, hitting behind the runner, executing fundamentals, not trying to do too much, grinding, executing a specific task as part of a team.

This is the expression players use when they follow cultural convention and lie in postgame interviews about the home run they uppercut into the third deck by saying, “I was just trying to move the runner over and not do too much.”

I bring this up because after this game, in which a lot of moving parts contributed to the Swallows taking the series lead, Takatsu credited that teamwork with the result, “We made plenty of mistakes but the players had each other’s backs. It’s important for Takatsu to say this because he is pretty old school. He absolutely loves small ball and plays aggressively for one run at every opportunity.

His team is a fairly efficient run-scoring and run preventing machine, but he can never just leave it alone and let it work. He has to pull the levers, with sacrifices and intentional walks and playing his outfield so far in with a runner on second that his infielders can hear them breathing.

Enough digression, time for the game.

Japan Series Game 3

Swallows 5, Buffaloes 4

At Tokyo Dome: Domingo Santana settled this one with the kind of disciplined at-bat that marked the Swallows’ offense the entire season. After watching cleanup hitter Munetaka Murakami flail at Ryo Yoshida’s sliders out of the zone, Santana waited the youngster out, got ahead in the count, and drove a mistake over the wall in right with a man on to give Yakult the lead.

Taichi Ishiyama (1-0) who has long been supplanted as Yakult’s closer, struck out Adam Jones to end the Buffaloes’ seventh with the bases loaded, then worked a 1-2-3 eighth in lieu of setup man Noboru Shimizu. Scott McGough allowed a flare single to lead off the ninth. With two outs and a runner on third, the Swallows intentionally walked dangerous PL batting champ Masataka Yoshida and McGough retired PL home run champ, Yutaro Sugimoto, to earn the save.

The Swallows were denied in a 1-2-3 first inning by the Buffaloes defense. Steven Moya robbed Norichika Aoki of a one-out single, and center fielder Shuhei Fukuda denied Tetsuto Yamada by catching his two-out sinking liner.

The Swallows wasted a two-on no-out opportunity in the second. Catcher Yuhei Nakamura, normally a reliable sacrifice bunter, failed twice before striking out, Jose Osuna was looking fastball in a fastball count and got hit a fat slider for an easy fly to center before pitcher Yasuhiro Ogawa struck out on the eighth pitch he saw from Daiki Tajima.

The Buffaloes cashed in a run the first chance they had. While Takatsu was sacrificing and wasting outs, Nakajima pulled a trick out of Nomura’s bag. Nomura exploited the fact that Japanese teams play aggressive defense by employing the “buster”–swinging away on a fake bunt.

After Kotaro Kurebayashi’s leadoff single, he had his catcher Torai Fushimi execute the buster. Swallows shortstop Naomichi Nishiura tried to play it on the short hop the way Yuma Mune does and the ball scooted under his glove for an error putting runners on the corners with no outs. Tajima bunted, Fukuda got a generous call on a 3-2 pitch to walk and load the bases, and Mune singled in a run.

Ogawa got out of the inning by retiring Yoshida and Sugimoto with the bases loaded to limit the damage to a run.

Tajima survived a two-out fourth-inning double by Osuna—Yakult’s first hit—by retiring Ogawa with two on to end the inning, but wasn’t allowed to pitch out of trouble in the fifth. After a one-out Aoki single. Yamada had already lined out twice and manager Nakajima called on right-hander Tomoki Higa to the surprise of the announcer – “but he got Yamada out twice.” Higa, who’d fooled Yamada badly in the ninth inning Game 1 en route to earning the win, and delivered again.

But Nakajjima was on a role. Cesar Vargas walked to the mound and walked Murakami and Santana to load the bases. Nakamura singled in two runs. Santana tried to take third on the play, and should have been out, but created chaos instead. When Mune failed to collect Fukuda’s offline throw, Nakamura tried for second base. A distracted Mune threw the ball but into left, allowing Santana to score.

But that lead wasn’t safe, either. After embarrassing Masataka Yoshida twice, the PL batting champ doubled off a high outside pitch from Ogawa pitch to lead off Orix’s sixth and PL home run leader Yutaro Sugimoto tied it with a two-run home run on a good fastball up in the zone.

Nakajima stuck with Vargas in the Swallows’ sixth and he responded with a 1-2-3 inning, and Orix re-took the lead in the seventh. After two walks from reliever Albert Suarez, a lucky flare single by Yoshida off a really good pitch from lefty Kazuto Taguchi plated Torai Fushimi to make it 4-3. Ishiyama kept the game close by getting the last out in the top of the seventh.

Ryo Yoshida came to face the Swallows’ seventh. The right-hander with a good fastball and a nasty diving slider had retired all four batters he faced in the first two games. Aoki, who was robbed of a hit and had singled and walked, singled again. Yamada flew out to the wall, and Murakami was completely fooled striking out to bring Santana up. Yoshida couldn’t get him to chase, fell behind 2-0, and missed up and Santana took advantage.

Setup man Noboru Shimizu was passed over in the eighth so Ishiyama could stay in and retire the sixth, seventh and eighth hitters, and McGough, who surrendered all three ninth-inning runs in Saturday’s loss finished up.

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